After the dark of the 2020s It was good until it wasn’t the light comes from Blue Waterway. It’s an album that 27-year-old Kehlani Parrish describes as “a glass house… with the sun shining through.” But that implies cold, fabricated right angles as the 13 songs unfold Blue Waterway roll out in warm, slow-rolling waves of sensual R&B. It begins and ends with the sound of the ocean. Her conversational chant bends through like sunshine through water.
In a short film about the album shared on Twitter this week, Kehlani claimed that all pop artists fear that upbeat music risks becoming “cheesy”. They joked that only sad ballads can express true depth. But — after the soap opera of her “toxic” celebrity romances led to a suicide attempt — Kehlani believes the joy and freedom they experience as a queer single mom are the “deepest feelings” they’ve ever felt. They clearly enjoyed translating those feelings into music.
That’s not to say Blue Waterway is an expression of uncomplicated, Pharrellian “roofless room” bliss. It’s more about the journey to joy. On opener “Little Story,” Kehlani addresses a lover with “a face I could lie to” and chooses not to. Instead, against a wobbly strumming guitar, the singer, who previously warned about her “cold habits,” admits she’s “working on being softer.” Deeper in the mix, a steel guitar reverberate like a whale song. There are chimes and swirling serious strings.
The mood brightens for one of the more standard click-along R&B grooves on “Any Given Sunday,” which features some soft backseat vocals from LA rapper Blxst. But Kehlani enjoys being assertive with lines like “Call me Daddy in front of all your bitches in the lobby.” They later reunite with Justin Bieber for “Up At Night” (a pop anthem to obsessive love fueled by a decent bass groove). Thundercat and Ambre join Kehlani on the sun-kissed thoughts of “Wondering/Wandering”.
But the best of these collaborations is with Canadian artist Jessie Reyez on the irresistibly dingy More Than I Should. The track, which rides a soft, squelchy synth hook, is a cheat’s anthem as Kehlani asks, “Is it really cheating if she doesn’t love me right / if she doesn’t touch me right?”
Kehlani opens her arms to pure pop frenzy on the catchy single “Altar” where they engage in a ritual of true love. But that celebration shines even brighter because it’s offset by the album’s more brackish moments, including the reeling percussion of “Tangerine” and the riveting “Shooter Interlude,” hats to her heroine, Jill Scott. “Can I borrow some money? / My mom needs surgery and my son needs a scooter / I think you need Jesus / I think you need a shooter.”
The album ends with Kehlani gazing out over the California surf with her daughter. It’s a sweet, odd moment — one that suggests they see even more interesting ideas looming on the horizon.
https://www.independent.co.uk/arts-entertainment/music/reviews/kehlani-review-blue-water-road-b2067457.html Kehlani review, Blue Water Road: The California artist returns with an album of warm, sensual R&B